Thursday, 9 April 2009

New nature poetics

Following the post about literature and climate change I went back to Gary Snyder’s thoughts about wildness in ‘Unnatural Writing’ (in A Place in Space) where he argues that  ‘the “art of the wild” is to see art in the context of the process of nature – nature as process rather than as product or commodity.’ He finds wildness in the mind and language, recognising that these work in similar ways to interconnected and complex ecosystems. An art of the wild ‘serves to acknowledge the autonomy and integrity of the nonhuman part of the world, an “Other” that we are barely beginning to be able to know’.

Here is his 1992 manifesto for the art of the wild:


  • That it be literate – that is, nature literate. Know who’s who and what’s what in the ecosystem, even if this aspect is barely visible in the writing.
  • That it be grounded in a place – thus, place literate: informed about local specifics on both ecological-biotic and sociopolitical levels. And informed about history (social history and environmental history), even if this is not obviously in the poem.
  • That it use Coyote as a totem – the Trickster, always open, shape shifting, providing the eye of other beings going in and out of death, laughing from the dark side.
  • That it use Bear as a totem – omnivorous, fearless, without anxiety, steady, generous, contemplative, and relentlessly protective of the wild.
  • That it find further totems – this is the world of nature, myth, archetype, and ecosystem that we must each investigate. ‘Depth ecology.’
  • That it fear not science. Go beyond nature literacy into the emergent new territories in science: landscape ecology, conservation biology, charming chaos, complicated systems theory.
  • That it go further with science – into awareness of the problematic and contingent aspects of so-called objectivity.
  • That it study mind and language – language as wild system, mind as wild habitat, world as a ‘making’ (poem), poem as a creature of the wild mind.
  • That it be crafty and get the work done.

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